Cheetah Day

This week’s blog was written by Erik Schipper a photographer from Sweden. I want to thank Erik for sharing his experience of a days game drive while staying at out camp last year.

The dark sky is still full of stars when we walk from our tent to the restaurant tent for an early cup of coffee and tea. This will be a beautiful sunrise in the Maasai Mara, we feel. Today’s goal is photographing warthogs, according to my brother, and after that we see what the day will bring.

We choose to stop at herd of wildebeest just before the sun rises over the mountain. Just before we turn left to them, Allison, our Maasai guide, asks if we’ve seen the cheetahs on our right. Would you rather see them? That doesn’t seem like such a difficult choice. We have not seen cheetahs this close to our basecamp. The 2 brother cheetahs are barely awake and still chilling. Directly after checking them out, we leave them for a while for some sunrise pics with the wildebeest, while Allison is keeping an eye on the cheetahs.

We get a beautiful sunrise and when we feel we are ready with it, we drive back to the cheetahs, only a couple of hundred meters away from us. The two brothers are more active by now and looking curiously for a possible prey perhaps. They look skinny, relatively weak and rather hungry.

We decide to stay close to them and see if they indeed want to go hunting. When they stay calm, we decide to change our position and drive the Toyota Landcruiser behind some wildebeest not far from them. So now we have the wildebeests in between us and the 2 cheetah brothers. The guess is that one of these wildebeests perhaps will be their target.

 We made a right choice! They slowly walk towards the small herd of 4 wildebeests and gradually increase their pace. One of the two cheetahs has moved forward and the other one is lagging behind.

The first one is supposed to, at least start the, attack and the other one’s job is to keep potential other predators away from their prey in case of a kill. The wildebeests could luckily escape after a short hunt. It didn’t seem like a real serious attempt to hunt actually.

While walking away, the wildebeest and zebras stay at an appropriate distance keeping a close eye on the cheetahs. Luckily for them, the cheetahs continue to rest from their failed attempt and catch their breath. Hunting requires a lot of energy from them.

We continue to drive a bit the direction where we expect they would hunt after their rest. Lots of wildebeest and Zebras there. “Have you seen the limping wildebeest over there?”. Pointing slightly to our right. “That one is an easy prey for them. I guess the cheetahs have seen him too.” Unbelievable how Allison sees this so quickly. A real expert.

I think they rested about half an hour before starting walking slowly in our direction again. We had actually taken a good position. So clever to be able to guess where they will probably make their next attempt. A top driver Daniel.

They use a similar tactic as earlier this morning. And they gradually accelerate towards the wildebeest. This time they got one after a few tries … but this wildebeest escapes as well. Very close, but a new failure and the cheetahs remain exhausted. A large circle of wildebeest and zebras staring at a good distance around them.

We eat our breakfast in the shadow under a tree. Roughly at the same place where we made some nice backlit pictures during sunrise, this morning. Although we are at a long distance from the cheetahs, we are still able to see them with our naked eye. When we are just about to finish our breakfast, they slowly walk away. Not interested in a third hunt for the moment, it seemed.

After breakfast we continue in the direction we usually drive. Over the ‘Go-Pro’ Bridge and the ‘Angry Elephant’ Bridge towards the west.

An annoying noise from under the car makes us stop to check what that might be. The suspension bracket of the fuel tank has failed. Daniel repairs it provisionally with a piece of rope that we find in our car. In a much slower pace than normal, we continue our way and when we ask to deviate from the road to a group of deer drinking at a water hole. Allison explains to us that he first wants to have the fuel tank bracket fixed.

“In the middle of” our area, just past the airstrip, there are a couple of houses, in which the camp guards stay. There we ask a man to help us. That turns out to be a good move. It probably takes him an hour, but he gets the job done. And we can continue our way. Being able to drive in a normal pace again.

It seemed to be the appropriate time for us to drive back to the base camp for a lunch. “But we have to look at some wildlife first”, we got some reply. There has been quite some communication on the radio with other guides and drivers in their Maasai language. No idea what they are discussing. Our guide hesitates to inform us properly in order not to make us happier than what he can deliver…. So, they know more than they will tell us…. Mmmmm …. We leave it to ask what they have discussed.

It was now noon and warm. At the same place where we saw the leopard with her cub earlier in the week, it appears that she still resides. This time there are only 2 other photographers and that was soon explained. The leopard was sleeping in the shade of a bush and we decide to leave quickly. It may take a while before she will be active, we guess …

Again, at the old trusted high speed, we continue our way and notice about 6-7 cars standing still near a large tree. We are in the same area where we previously saw a group of cheetahs twice. The last time we saw these boys was a rainy afternoon and at that time they were only with the four of them. Now all five are reunited.

They are chilling in the shadow under the tall tree. And actually, become somewhat active shortly after our arrival. Allison expects they are going to hunt soon and we decide to wait and see. All five of them starting slowly to walk away from the shadow, passing the cars close by. The alfa-male walks at ease at the back.

Smart teamwork

No prey in sight with the naked eye yet and we slowly drive in the same direction they are heading. They pass us and then we see a few Topis a few hundred meters away from us. Daniel thinks that one of them could be the prey and we are the first vehicle positioning ourselves strategically again, so that we can behold the hunt at an appropriate but clear distance. When they start running towards the Topis, we start driving in the same direction and Daniel seems to understand what their target is. A baby Topi, running for his life while protected by her mother. In vain. The front two cheetahs grab the baby Topi. The remaining 3 cheetahs follow at an appropriate distance, not losing too much energy.

The cheetahs do not kill the newborn Tobi immediately. In their hope that the mother Topi will return, attempting to save her baby. That was the moment when two other cheetahs launched an attack on the mother.

This is the start of a long fight with the 2 cheetahs. One holding tight to her right leg and the other one trying to get her down on the ground by putting his weight on the Tobis shoulders. Finally, they get her down and the Tobi mother does not survive the brutal attack.

Nature is tough though. Feels double when you witness the killing of such a pretty animal just a few meters in front of you.

Complete symbiosis – after two hours there is almost nothing left of the Topi.

A third cheetah comes relatively soon after the two boys kill the mother Topi. He keeps watch. A first hyena is quickly nearby and his role is to keep other predators away. He makes a few mock attacks at the hyena, which then retreats keeping an eye on the cheetahs with their prey at about 50-100 meters. During that time, some 10 vultures arrive and wait patiently at the same appropriate distance.

When the cheetahs are finished eating the baby Topi, they join their three brothers. Constantly guarding and with bloody aggressive mouths. Afraid for the hyena to approach them stealing their prey. The five brothers eating 90% of the Topi in 2 hours. They ignore the intestines. A sinister sight.


One by one the cheetahs are then dropping away, tired and with clearly round bellies.

Only 20 meters away from the remnants of the Topi, the hyena already approaches the carcass and drags it away. He is closely followed by the vultures, who also want their part of the prey.


The carcass breaks by the dragging, still the hyena tries to collect all the pieces. However, the vultures quickly start eating a lost piece. A spectacular sight, the fight for the last remnants. A second hyena shows up on the sight from nowhere and also captures a piece of carcass and runs off with it.

Finally, silver-backed jackals come for the battle of the remains. We see five of them in total.

We continue to watch the spectacle until some tiny pieces of the ribs are left. The vultures still enjoy themselves with it.

 In the distance a hyena disappears safeguarding the head of the Topi …

It is about 3:30 PM.


A cheetah returns

It was a clear morning with a sharp breeze when we set off, with the sun only just appearing above the horizon it had not yet warmed the air, I had wrapped myself in a shuka to protect me from the chill. I knew it wouldn’t be long before the rays of the sun would be felt, this is the most dangerous time for fair skinned people that haven’t used plenty of sunscreen. There was as usual, when we leave the camp, many game animals to greet us; Impala, Tommi’s, zebra, warthog and because it was early and we were only just inside the park, Maasai cows.

Before heading off to find the Sopa pride we concentrated on the area around the camp as we had seen a male cheetah around for the last two days. We knew this cheetah; it was his territory. Up until around two months ago there were 2 cheetahs’, they were brothers, they hung out together and hunted together, then one day when they were hunting a Topi one of the cheetahs got in the way of the topi’s horns, it gouged the cheetah’s stomach and escaped. After this the lone cheetah disappeared, but now he’s back.

It was so nice to see him again, alone but doing well. When we found him, it was early morning, he was just marking his territory and looking around for breakfast probably. Now he is alone he must target smaller animals to hunt.

When we came upon the Sopa pride what first caught the eye was the bright red colour of the fresh meat in contrast to the yellowish grass of the savannah. The main female of this pride wears a collar, this is so that they can be tracked and monitored, to ensure they are all healthy and thriving. There are no worries on that score, the group of five females are excellent hunters and all their adolescent cubs, all 17 of them, look strong and healthy, they are a perfect example of a successful pride of lions.


It always fascinates me how strong the bond is between the individual members of the group, they eat together with no squabbling, maybe because there’s no male around. They relax together, play together, and groom one another. There was one incident this morning where a young male wanted to play and his sister didn’t, she put him in his place straight away.

I was also relaxing, just sitting back, watching the peaceful scene around me when one young male lion, I would put him at around one year old as he doesn’t show any signs of a mane starting to grow yet, strolled over to the vehicle. He looked very inquisitive. After checking out one side he then moved around to the back, where he decided to take a bite out of the tyre cover. After satisfying himself that it was neither tasty nor particularly interesting, he then came around the other side to where I was sitting and looked in to see if there was anything more interesting inside.

Even though he looked so sweet and innocent it’s essential to understand that these are wild animals, so I moved away from the window, slowly until he decided that there was nothing of interest for him inside either. I imagine he was feeling pretty pleased with himself as he walked over to join his mother.

Lions are generally inactive for around 20 hours a day, mostly during daylight hours, so after being with them for a couple of hours we thought we had seen as much activity as we were going to and decided to leave them to sleep off their meal.

Since we have been following this pride, we had only seen one of the Sopa males, and he was with a female from a different pride, so it’s possible that he won’t return to them. There are three Sopa males altogether, but we have not yet seen the other two. Their territory is very close to the Tanzanian border, so it is possible they are in Tanzania.

As we head back to the camp, we stop to take photos of some of the birds, Ken in particular enjoys photographing the birds. The first one is a Ground Hornbill, you very rarely see them in flight, they prefer to walk, feeding on small mammals and insects as they go. The second is a long-crested Eagle, you can see where the name came from, and the saying eagle eyed, the eyes look very intense as if they don’t miss a thing. Next is the Bateleur Eagle, which is considerably larger, and finally the Goshawk. 

We had only just pulled up to the tree where the Goshawk was resting when he suddenly took off, flying first towards the ground, then upwards with a rat in his claws, the whole thing took just a few seconds. The Hawks and Eagles are very impressive predators.


Meet the Sopa Pride

So, this morning we left camp again at around 7am heading to where the Sopa pride were last seen. It’s never easy to find a particular pride of lions, typically their territory is between 20 sq km and 400 sq km, you can imagine this is a lot of ground to cover and generally when not eating they rest in the shade of a bush which makes them even more difficult to spot, but I felt confident that our guide wouldn’t let us down, I think I mentioned what an amazing job he does and how much experience he has in tracking the animals.

Although our main objective was to check in with the Sopa pride there were so many other things to see on the way. shortly after leaving the camp, we encountered scavengers around an earlier kill, I was surprised by how orderly it seemed to be, at other kills I have seen there is usually much fighting and squabbling. The Hyenas being the top scavengers were in cracking bones of what was once a wildebeest, of the 4 Hyenas only one was eating, the others waiting patiently for their turn. There is a strict hierarchy within the Hyena clan. Two Jackals kept darting in every now and then to take a small piece of something, which the Hyenas allowed, and beyond them, the vultures, the ultimate scavengers were also waiting their turn.

It was a day for birds today, before we even reached lion territory we first spotted a Goshawk and as Ken went to photograph it, a beautiful iridescent blue starling took off from the tree which he was able to capture. Next there was a long-crested eagle which posed for the camera, finally the largest of the Eagles here in the Mara, the Martial Eagle. Martial eagles are excellent hunters, they have been known to catch and carry off young Dik Dik’s which are the smallest antelope here, but still quite heavy for an eagle to lift.

Finally, we caught up with the Sopa pride, first 2 adolescent males sleeping in the shade of a small bush and hiding in the next bush was a young female. It wasn’t long before their mother approached and went over to join them. Immediately she started to clean and groom them, this is typical lion behavior between members of the same pride, it helps with the bonding process and is lovely to witness.

A couple more lions wandered in, and we headed in the direction from which they came to find the rest of the pride. We found one group of lions tucking into what was left of a zebra and another group with a warthog. The kill lay right next to the warthog den, it looked like they had excavated the den to get them out, This pride seem to be excellent hunters. Some of the lions were heading off with different pieces of the carcass, while one female was claiming her share by protecting it, I don’t think any of the youngsters would even attempt to steal it from her.

After they had their fill, one by one they made their way into the shade near a small water hole where they could drink and relax, probably for the rest of the day so for today we leave them there, at peace.